Romney Comes Out for School Choice

Published May 23, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney today endorsed tying federal education dollars directly to poor and disabled students to help them attend public, charter, or private schools or pay for online education and tutoring.

In a speech Wednesday at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Romney said he would allow parents to direct the federal funds allocated for low-income students under Title I and for special-needs students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to any of these several options. For 2012, these two programs were allocated $26 billion. They constitute the largest federal interventions in local schools and state policies aside from No Child Left Behind’s testing requirements.

“I will expand school choice in an unprecedented way,” Romney said. “Too many of our kids are trapped in schools that are failing or simply don’t meet their needs.”

Romney’s newly released education platform also includes encouraging states to adopt open enrollment policies, eliminate caps on public charter and online schools, and reducing barriers to people seeking to enter the teaching profession.

“Gov. Romney’s positions on education are well thought out and highly promising for genuine,constructive reforms,” said Herbert Walberg, a Hoover Institution fellow and Heartland Institute senior fellow who recently joined Romney’s education policy committee.

Romney pointed to U.S. students’ ranking against 34 developed countries at 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math, and to the nation’s one-quarter dropout rate as reasons to give parents, schools, and states more education responsibility and flexibility. 

Dismantling ‘No Child’
Romney would also largely dismantle No Child Left Behind in favor of school report cards offering a variety of information about the school based of student performance of the well-respected National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“Parental choice will hold schools responsible for results, but parents can only exercise that choice effectively if they have good information,” Romney said.

He would support eliminating scores of federal NCLB requirements, including required changes to low-performing schools, and restore federal funding for the D.C. vouchers program, which the Obama administration has consistently attempted to block.

As for teaching quality, Romney said he supports block-granting federal funds for that to the states to replace the current $4 billion for 82 programs in 10 agencies.

Political Considerations
Romney criticized President Obama for accepting more money from labor unions than any single candidate in history, saying teacher unions consistently strangle necessary reforms. He also noted that the two biggest teacher unions take in $600 million each year, which is more than the two major political parties combined. 

“If I’m president of the United States, instead of just giving lip service to improving our schools, I will actually put the kids first and the union behind in giving our kids better teachers, better options and better choices for a better future,” Romney said.

Romney released his education agenda at the Latino Coalition’s Annual Economic Summit in Washington, D.C. That conjunction underscores a recent poll revealing that education is second only to the economy and jobs in importance to Latino voters.

Image by Dave Lawrence.